Bergerac Build Festival 2020: More than just bricks and mortar

‘I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect at the building festival, planning to leave the UK during a pandemic felt worrying, however after months of isolation I felt like human connection was truly needed. I can genuinely say that I discovered in the South of France one of the most welcoming and caring communities I could have encountered. People from all over the world coming together to share great food, amazing conversations and to contribute towards an exciting project. I felt overjoyed to share my time with such wonderful people and felt truly inspired by the fire-side chats about wisdom, creating a better world and supporting one another.’

I came to the building festival seeking an experience, little did I know, I would also find a home 🙂 

Charley Lee

For the whole of August, Life Itself opened the doors to our new rural hub near Plum Village Buddhist monastery, south west of Bergerac in southern France. The invitation was to our Build Festival, where people came from Germany, France, Spain and all across England to renovate and restore an old farmhouse. Accents were a hot topic at our evening meals!

Building together – whether it be as small and delightful as a pizza oven, or structural and hefty as a barn – is a simple communal act of bonding, creating together and celebration. It is fulfilling to sweat, toil and problem solve together, and to create something unique from the people there. People expand on what they thought they were capable of – it is a joy to witness young people using a drill for the first time, for example. 

Set up by our friends Mark and Poppy, they had listed areas and tasks that were low-ish risk for inexperienced, enthusiastic volunteers. We donned masks for more than health reasons (“antique dust” it was referred to); fulfilled childhood dreams of power tools and tidy workshops, and got to it. Every day after our morning practice (for a community that meditates together, gets a lot done well together); we assembled in circle for our Stand Up. We would share what we had done yesterday and what we were going to do that day – and where we needed help / what was blocking us. 

We learnt about the different soil types on the land, and what we can use for different types of natural building. As it was so dry and hard, we had to make mud baths to loosen it. Yes, mud fights were had, as well as mud face masks. We added some straw and created a good material for our pizza oven, but could also be used for stronger structures – see the bricks in form below. 

We made different compost and it got smelly. 

As Health and Safety Officer, I can happily report that I was the only one in need of our first aid kit repeatedly and everyone left unscathed, indeed most left much calmer and weller than when they arrived.

Most of our work was indeed clearing rather than building at this stage. We got hammer drills and removed the plaster from inside the bedrooms and on the external wall to show more clearly the story of the buildings, alongside Life Itself’s design principles. We became experts in pointing; in insulation; in the difference in french and english terms; the aisles of Bricomarche; and most of all cooking feasts for the hungry crew. We worked until 2pm after lunch, when the heat became a barrier and we either rested or went on excursions to find the internet as many of us had work still to fulfil on. 

People slept on mattresses in old kitchens and dining rooms, mid renovation. We had large bell tents too dotted around the site under the clear, star filled night sky. 

 Thank you all. It was a real pleasure to meet you and come to know you better. …The place is enchanting…. I especially enjoyed our fireside discussions; building the clay oven; the community housing workshop; swimming in the Dordogne; playing with Ateyan and observing his appetite for exploring life; sharing the cooking, laughing and singing with Catalina; sharing beers with the boys.

David Parkes

Our days were rich and deeply fulfilling combining physical, satisfying (most of the time) work with cooking, silliness, philosophical chat and laptop time. Thankfully, we have an ambitious project here so there will be plenty more opportunities for community builds. We look forward to welcoming you next year for the next phase.